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6 Hard Truths About Volunteering Abroad That No One Will Tell You

6 Hard Truths About Volunteering Abroad That No One Will Tell You

When you want to travel and do some charity work at the same time, volunteering abroad seems to be the best option. It’s also a great option for students who want to travel but are short on money. The prospect of traveling cheap and helping people is very seductive, so before you know it, you may find yourself teaching English in South America or helping medical staff in an AIDS clinic in Africa. On paper it’s all nice, but the harsh reality might be way too much for you. When I traveled to Romania to help children in remote villages in the Carpathian mountains, I wasn’t ready for what I found. Here are the hard truths no one is telling you about volunteering abroad.

1. Fundraising is an important part of volunteering abroad

When you sign up to volunteer abroad, you need to know these organizations need both your work and money. This is why fundraising is mandatory in most cases. Before you leave, the organization may ask you to raise some funds to validate your spot among the volunteers. Some organizations will ask you to fundraise while volunteering.

There are some organizations which can cover the cost of your accommodations because they get help from locals who volunteer to shelter people who come to help them.

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However, you need to make sure the money you are raising is going to the right places, so ask the organization how they will use the money you send. The right answers are for providing food, equipment, and supplies for volunteers like you and the locals. Another thing you’ll want to research before sending the money is if the actions taken by the organization are ethical and really help the local communities. Unfortunately, there are places where volunteers do more harm than good.

2. Find the right volunteer program for you

I am not the person to build houses — my skills in crafting are limited to understanding the difference between a nail and a hammer. However, I do have excellent communication skills and I know how to attract kids and make them listen to me. So, I went on and worked with kids during my volunteering abroad experience.

Picking the right volunteer program for you is essential because not all programs are a good fit for your abilities. Before you enrol in a program, make sure you are a good candidate. You may want to work as a nurse, but if you become sick from seeing blood, this is not the right position for you.

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3. Your volunteer work is not an employment guarantee

After working as a volunteer in an organization, there is no guarantee someone will actually hire you or will help you extend your visa. Yes, these things happen, but they happen to a small number of volunteers, so don’t rely on this. All you can do is dedicate yourself to your work and connect with as many organizations, businesses, and people as you can.

4. It will be bad

Now comes the really hard part of this article: volunteering abroad is not all smiles and cocktails — it will have a bad side! When you arrive at your site, you may be greeted by the poorest, illest-looking person you’ve ever seen in your life. Disease and a lack of the basic features of a home, such as tap water and medicines, are going to shock you. Then you will have to face the realities of surviving a couple of months sleeping in tiny huts or dorms, eating the same food every day. Volunteering is going to show you just how weak you are, but also how strong you are. On your first day, you won’t even be able to look at the dirty, emaciated people around you; on your last day, you will look straight into their eyes.

5. The problems will be worse than you’ve imagined

Many volunteers start their adventure abroad thinking they will go there and eradicate any trace of disease, poverty, and illiteracy in the area. The reality is more cruel than this sweet dream: you won’t make a hugely significant difference! Your volunteering abroad time is only going to help a couple of poor kids learn how to say “thank you” in English. Or perhaps you will help a mother with AIDS deliver a healthy baby. You won’t change the world nor the local community, but the small changes still mean something.

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6. Volunteering abroad will make you feel useless

Because you will discover a new world, where nothing is like you’ve seen in pictures or on TV, volunteering abroad will make you feel useless. Most of the time, you will be “just a volunteer” who will be sent to bring a bucket of water or left out of important matters, because you will leave in couple of weeks. This will make your feelings of uselessness even worse, but you need to be firm and positive. Focus on what you can do and learn to love it! If you work with people, try to ignore their coolness and do your job well. They will learn to love you!

Empowering, fulfilling, and amazing – this is real-life volunteering!

Volunteering abroad can be an empowering, fulfilling, and amazing experience, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Make sure you stay realistic about your new adventure and do as much research as you can so you won’t be taken by surprise when you land in a remote area.

When you are faced with the hard truth of volunteering, you will discover a side of your personality you never knew you had. You will learn how strong you are, even if you end up crying every day for the first two weeks.

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Volunteering abroad, regardless where and how you do it, is going to leave a strong mark on you. Some day, despite the hard stuff, you might even want to do it all over again.

Featured photo credit: Visions Service Adventures/Flickr via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

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Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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